Saints of the Day – Winifred

detail of a stained glass window of Saint Winifred, Our Lady and Saint Non's Chapel, Saint David's, Wales; artist unknown; photographed on 21 July 2011 by Wolfgang Sauber; swiped off WikipediaArticle

(also known as Winefride, Wenefrida, Gwenfrewi, Guinevra)

Died c.680. Winifred is evidently an historical personage, but it is equally true that her true story can no longer be reconstructed because the written information is too late and fanciful to be reliable. Throughout the time of the persecution of Roman Catholics in England, miracles were wrought for the faithful who held tenaciously to the belief in miracles. Many cures were worked through the prayers of Saint Winefred at her tomb.

Winefred was the daughter of Trevith, one of the chief advisers of the king of North Wales. Through her mother she is related to the Welsh saint Beuno, a holy priest. Her parents put her under instruction with this holy man, from whom she learned the heavenly doctrine with great eagerness.

She grew daily in virtue and desired to shun all earthly things so that she might devote herself entirely to God. With the consent of her parents, she consecrated herself entirely to God by a vow of virginity, choosing Jesus Christ as her Spouse.

Tradition says that a prince of that country named Caradoc (Caradog of Hawarden or Penarlag or Tegeingl in Flintshire) fell violently in love with her. One day finding her alone in the house where she was preparing things for use at the altar, her parents having already gone to Mass, he tried to seduce her. Winefred told him she was already espoused to another, but he would not leave her alone.

Sensing his evil designs she excused herself on the plea that she must first adorn herself more becomingly. When she was free of him she escaped through her own chamber at the rear of the house and fled toward the church with all speed. The prince, tired of waiting and suspecting some kind of deceit, looking out of the house saw a figure hurrying along the valley.

Violently angry at being deceived, he mounted his horse but was not able to overtake Winefred until she reached the door of the church. He was so angry that he raised his sword and struck her before she could enter. Hearing the tumult outside, Saint Beuno and her parents came out immediately, to find their dying child lying slain before them at their feet.

The saint cursed the slayer, some writers saying that the ground opened and swallowed him up. The saint then praying to God, restored Winefred to life again. It was on this spot where her blood had flowed that a fountain gushed forth from the ground. On account of this blood-shedding she was always regarded as a martyr, though she lived for many years thereafter.

The spot became known as Holywell, a place of pilgrimage for many succeeding ages, even to the present. After the death of Saint Beuno, having taken the veil, Saint Winefred went to live at the convent she established at Guthurin (Gwytherin in Denbigshire); there, with other holy virgins, she gave her life to God. (Another version says she succeeded Abbess Tenoi at the convent of a double monastery already on the site.)

She died on June 24. In the 12th century (1138), her relics were taken from Guthurin to Shrewsbury and deposited with great honor in the Benedictine Abbey, founded there some 50 years earlier. Her cultus spread to England as well. Miracles were attested at Guthurin, Shrewsbury, as well as at Holywell (a.k.a. Treffynnon, Welltown).

Her story was recorded by a monk named Elerius as early as 660. It can be safely said, however, from the names of her contemporaries, that she lived and died in the first half of the 7th century, about the same time as Saint Eanswith of Kent (Murray).

At Holywell such vast quantities of water spring without interruption that it is estimated 24 tons are raised every minute, or 240 tons in less than 10 minutes. The water is always clear as crystal.

In 1131 the Cistercians founded a monastery at Basingwerk nearby, which was enriched by Henry II. At that time the monks probably had charge of the well, though the spot was a place of pilgrimage long before that time.

No place was more famous for pilgrimages in the age of faith, where the divine mercy was implored through the intercession of Saint Winefred, who at that spot had glorified God and sanctified her own soul.

Many extraordinary physical cures of leprosy, skin diseases, and other ailments are recorded up to the time of the Reformation. Many authentic records of cures during the 17th century are also extant, so that the people still made pilgrimages there.

Part of the beautiful Gothic building erected by Henry VII and his mother, the Countess of Derby, still remains. The people never forgot this holy place or the saint whom they invoked. During the last century the pilgrimages were revived. There is now a beautiful Catholic church adjoining the well.

In his diary, Wilfrid Blunt (a well-known Catholic from the 1800’s) tells us what he witnessed at Holywell. “Three men were being passed through the water, a priest was reciting the ‘Hail Marys’ and at the end of each, the name of Saint Winefred – this in an unbelieving age – miraculous! There were lighted candles and flowers and the fervor of these naked men (one a mere bag of skin and bone) was tremendous. In the dim light of a foggy day, nothing at all congruous to the 19th century was visible. It was a thing wholly of the Middle Ages – magnificent, touching” (Attwater, Benedictines, Delaney, Encyclopedia, Metcalf, Murray).

Pilgrimages to Saint Winefred’s Well persisted after the Reformation, and they do to this day. Two poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins are devoted to this saint.

There is evidence that the abbot Saint Beuno was a man of importance, but is story, too, as written in 1346, is legendary. His name is particularly associated with Clynnog in Caernarvonshire, where sick people were still brought to his supposed burying-place towards the end of the 18th century. He may well have had a small monastery there (Attwater).

In art Winefred is depicted as a Celtic maiden with a sword, fountain at her feet, and red ring around her neck where her head has been severed and restored. Sometimes she is shown with her head being restored by Saint Beuno, at others as an abbess with a ring around her neck, standing near the fountain (Roeder).

She is venerated at Holywell, Wales. Reputed as abbess of Gwytherin, Denbighshire. Saint Beuno, Abbot, is chiefly venerated at Clynnog, Carnarvonshire (died 630, AC April 21).

MLA Citation

  • Katherine I Rabenstein. Saints of the Day, 1998. CatholicSaints.Info. 10 August 2020. Web. 26 November 2020. <>